Friday, August 15, 2008

October 1973: worst month in American history

When I hear people talk about gloom and doom and how the world is coming to an end, I remind them to look back to 1973 and count their blessings.  Imagine the following month (which actually happened, by the way):

Oct 2: Egypt and Syria begin an all-out attack on a surprised and under-prepared Israel.  For the next several weeks, Israel is in retreat and looks likely to lose. The Soviet Union (a very scary government, in case you're too young to remember), openly supports the anti-Israel forces and has military ships in the Mediterranean thought to be transporting nuclear weapons.

Oct 12: The Vice President of the U.S. resigns over tax fraud allegations and a new Vice President is announced.

Oct 20:  Saudi Arabia announces it will cut off all oil, every last barrel, to the United States in retaliation for supporting Israel.

Oct 20: The President of the United States fires the Watergate special prosecutor, and the Attorney General resigns in protest.  The President himself would resign in disgrace within a year.

The worldwide price of oil went up 5x, back in a time when the US was far more dependent on oil than it is now.  No Strategic Petroleum Reserve, no Alaska Pipeline, no Priuses.  The average car got 13 miles per gallon.

Meanwhile, the Cold War was in full force, with two large and scary countries (Maoist China and the Soviet Union) deploying powerful nuclear weapons that could, within minutes,  obliterate the U.S. or any of our friends many times over.  Did I mention we were still in the middle of a war in Vietnam that we would ultimately lose, and that had already cost nearly 50,000 casualties--most of them 19-year-olds who had been forced to join the army? 

No internet, no cell phones,  no Espresso Vivace, big TV sets were 19 inches, and just about everything cost way more in real terms than it does today.

I'm near the end of my two week vacation, and just managed to finish the 800-page Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Prize, by Daniel Yergin. It's about the history of the oil industry, and though it's a little on the older side (it was published in the early 90's), I learned a great deal about some epic events of the 20th century.  If you can spare the 30+ hours it took me to read this thing, I can highly recommend it.  Really makes you appreciate how much better things are today than ever before.

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